afrol News: POLISARIO releases 115 Moroccan prisoners

Western Sahara & Morocco 
POLISARIO releases 115 Moroccan prisoners

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afrol News, 3 January - The Western Sahara POLISARIO on Wednesday announced it would liberate 115 Moroccan prisoners of war following an intervention of the Spanish government. The UN meanwhile demands the release of all prisoners, some of whom captured in the 1970s. 

In a news release from the Algerian capital, Algiers, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) announced it would release 115 Moroccan prisoners of war, thus rising the total number of released Moroccans to 900 since the conflict started in 1975. 

According to the The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), however, POLISARIO holds a total of 1,479 Moroccan prisoners of war. The detainees are being held in six centres in the Tindouf region of Algeria and in areas of Western Sahara controlled by POLISARIO. 

The gesture to release 115 prisoners was made to celebrate the new, Christian year and the end of the Muslim lent, the Ramadan. The decision had come "after a demand by the President of the Spanish government," José María Aznar, the POLISARIO release read.

This liberation was also to celebrate "the acknowledgement of the interest Spain always has demonstrated in the Western Sahara conflict, including its humanitarian aspects." Spain, Western Sahara's former colonial power, over the last half year has experienced seriously deteriorated diplomatic relations with its African neighbour, Morocco, over its clearer opposition to Morocco's occupation of the territory.

The Spanish Red Cross is to oversee the release of the Moroccan prisoners of war, according to the POLISARIO statement. The exact date of their release was not stated.

Reacting to the announced release, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) today urged both sides to continue freeing long-held detainees. MINURSO stressed that "the continued detention of prisoners of war is a serious humanitarian issue in view of their age, state of health and duration of captivity."

The UN Mission "strongly supports the Security Council's call on the parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to release, without further delay, all those held since the start of the conflict," today's MINURSO statement said.

Most Moroccan prisoners of war were taken by POLISARIO in the first years of conflict, and have therefore been held for almost three decades. While Morocco claims they are held hostages, POLISARIO claims Morocco is acting in the same way. POLISARIO activists captured by Morocco were however not registered as prisoners of war, as Morocco claim they are Moroccan terrorists. 

While Morocco, pointing to international law, has demanded the unilateral release of the prisoners of war by POLISARIO, the Sahrawis demand the recognition of imprisoned POLISARIO activists as prisoners of war and an exchange of prisoners. These positions have endured for decades. 

Sources: POLISARIO, UN and afrol archives

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